Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier


Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds

 The forecast called for Mostly Sunny. Every forecast showed sunshine. You know how that goes, usually it turns out to be mostly sunny. Psych! Not this trip. A last minute plan for Shuksan as a day trip came to fruition when I realized it was Angie’s last weekend in the PNW and we had to do something. We had not yet gone on a glaciated climb since she always had to be back in Seattle by a reasonable hour on Sundays to drive back to Ashford. We had always been limited to shorter trips. Here was our chance, and with Haley and Angie I knew we’d have a kick ass girls team. And with a forecast of mostly sunny, what could go wrong? I was in the mood for some incredible sweeping views of the North Cascades. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Shuksan. Sulphide is huge bang for your buck, Fisher Chimneys is the most enjoyable route I’ve climbed up anything out here (small sample size, to be fair), Price Glacier and North Face will hopefully happen sometime in the next year. So many routes, such great views, very alpine feel. But Shuksan’s a tease, and doesn’t return my unrequited love. Just strings me along with false promises and narrow weather windows and glimpses of mind blowing views.
  • Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 6500ft gain (9127ft highest point)
  • Weather: Foggy and 40’s, sunny and 60’s
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
  • Did I Trip: A majestic, foot-caught-on-branch-land-face-down-in-mud-and-skid-a-few-feet beauty. So you could say yes.

A well camouflaged toad on the trail

We camped at the trailhead, where Angie and Haley ended up sleeping in my car while I bivvied on the ground. Three people in the car is a lot of people, and I could not be bothered to share. “Does not play well with others,” I snarkily announced as my head hit the pillow I had made from rolled-up extra sleeping bag. At one point it started drizzling and I laughed and rolled my eyes. The proud owner of the car had been relegated to the gravel parking lot, while the plebs slept inside it. Luckily the rain didn’t last, and my bivvy was wonderfully cozy.



I woke up to my alarm at 3am. Usually I’m up before it, but I was completely unconscious. The best night (okay, the best two hours) of sleep I’ve ever had. But I dragged myself out of my bivvy and packed. No stars in the sky, just thick fog everywhere. Whatever, mostly sunny forecast, it’ll burn off when the sun rises. I was excited to see how my camelback bladder did in my pack. I always just carried water bottles, but I was experimenting. I reached for the bladder I had filled up at home and – wait a sec, where the fuck is the water? The bag was empty. My trunk was dry. The bag was dry. I definitely filled it up, Angie had watched me. It was a total mystery. Ghost water. I though of Kacie, who I teased relentlessly when she forgot her water on Baring. Now I understand. She had the ghost water. Well, I refilled it with the water I had in my trunk and we started out.


The bright green crampons look great with my blue & pink runners

I was wearing my brand new trail runners, finally getting the update to my trusty old Saucony Peregrines, which (I am almost ashamed to admit) are nearly 3 years old with well over a thousand miles on them through the Cascades, through Wisconsin, through Montana, through Moab, and I’m sure some extra epic trails I’m forgetting. There were toads everywhere, and huge flowers (foxglove?) and salmonberries!! So many salmonberries. But we figured we’d get them on the way down. We hit the ridge and broke out of the trees. Baker was completely obscured, but clouds seemed to be clearing up since there were patches of blue sky. Snow started at the notch (around 5200ft), and Angie and Haley switched to boots. I went to take a drink from my water hose for the first time and – wait, where the fuck is the water?? AGAIN?! It had disappeared. My pack wasn’t wet. My back wasn’t wet. If it had all leaked out of the hose (which was resting against my leg) my side would be soaked. This shit made no sense. Sneaky ass ghost water, dehydrating unsuspecting climbers all across America.

We came up upon the first campsite we had seen all morning, which we thought was IMG. Angie works for IMG, and we were going to say hi until we realized duh, everyone’s asleep, it’s 6:30am. We carried on our merry way, and stopped to refill water (or in my case, see if I could fight the magical disappearing qualities of my bladder). I made Angie and Haley top theirs off too since there was a chance I’d need some if my bladder kept emptying its damn ghost water.


“Mostly Sunny” my ass

We found low camp next, which housed a Mountain Madness team and I believe a group with the Mountaineers. Again, we didn’t chat much, as everyone was asleep besides two people having coffee. And we had work to do. I took a sip of my water. Which was still there.

At this point, visibility was around 30ft, and with a mellow, mostly featureless glacier (very few open crevasses), navigation is like 30% difficult and 70% boring. We aimed for high camp, only to find… nothing. There’s a toilet up there somewhere, but we didn’t exactly miss out on the views from that lovely throne with all of the fog. Remind me to mark a waypoint there next time. We roped up and stayed left near the ridge since that was the route we were familiar with from last year, and ridges make for easy navigation. It meant a few unnecessary steep slopes, but they were short. Kicking steps in trail runners turned out to be difficult, but I was anchoring the rope, so I had Angie and Haley both kicking steps in front of me. Staircases, woohoo!


Holy shit! Mostly sunny!

Soon enough we were on a ridge that I remembered from Labor Day weekend last year, when we had to descend Sulphide in similar conditions. We took a quick break there for snacks, and as we stood up, the clouds started to clear. I couldn’t form words. “GO! GO go KEEP GOING” I was waving my arms until Haley and Angie turned around and realized what was happening. We caught glimpses of the summit pyramid and Baker, and as we got higher and higher it got clearer and clearer until we were officially above the clouds surrounded by sunshine and blue skies. Blue skies are nice. Partly cloudy is better. Above the clouds is second best. And best, is being above the cotton candy clouds, but below those high, wispy cirrus clouds. Well after all that fog, I’ll settle for second best. Now if only a few other peaks would poke up above the sea of clouds.


Baker and part of the ridge above the clouds


Clouds playing along the arm

We were quick getting to the summit pyramid, despite my fifteen micro stops. “Guys wait I need sunscreen.” “Guys wait can I borrow someone’s chapstick with SPF?” “Guys wait my shoe is untied.” “Guys hold up a sec I need to delayer.” “GUYSIDROPPEDMYGLOVESSORRYWAIT” “Hahaha… guys… sorry but one more stop I dropped a coil.” I’m usually more organized, I swear. At least I still had my water, which was a record for the day. It hadn’t disappeared yet.


Angie coming up the scramble

We unroped at the patch of rocks at the base of the scramble. We kept crampons and ice axes for the next 50 or so vertical feet until we were officially on rock only, and stashed them at the base of the central gully. We followed the gully fairly well (a few hesitations, a few sketchy off route moves while scouting) until the top, where we went too far to the right. A big part of scrambling and rock climbing in general is trusting your feet, and I did not trust my feet in those trail runners. Which isn’t the shoes’ fault, I just had to get used to them. I mean shit I watched my friend climb a pillar at Ruby Beach in flip flops. You can’t always blame footwear, sometimes it’s just in your head.


Angie on the ridge

Anyway, we ended up on the SE ridge for the last maybe 50 vertical feet, but at that point there are no technical moves left (the rest of the ridge is 5.6ish). One slabby move sketched me out until Angie pointed out that it’s way easier than downclimbing, and she was totally right. As soon as I realized my shoes would in fact stick to the rock it was quick moving, and before I knew it, we were standing on the summit.



Summit quilt!

We snapped pictures, destroyed Haley’s like 5lbs of M&Ms (she did most of the work), I took 50 pictures of my trail runners (should have left the crampons on) and eventually we started down as the clouds were rising. Downclimbing the gully was a painstaking affair. We took a slightly different route down, which was easier than our route up but downclimbing 4th class is a bitch. Summitpost claims it’s 3rd class, I don’t think that’s true. Unless we missed a blatant gully that would have been way easier.


Haley on the downclimb

I can see why everyone prefers to rappel. Step by step, we inched down. The cap came off my sunscreen, spattering the rocks with lotion. I tried to carry it down balancing it in my hand but eventually had to give up, my hands were too necessary on some of those moves. I basically needed handholds any time I had to face inward to downclimb, which again is really more mental than anything. Those trail runners did fine. Sure it was tough edging on footholds whereas the Nepal Evos can edge on anything, but they still stuck to all of the slabby moves, and I didn’t actually lose footing once (which could have been because I was being ultra conservative with every single move).

We grabbed our axes and crampons, roped up, and descended back into the clouds. So much for “mostly sunny.” We saw another party coming up just below the summit pyramid. I yelled to Haley and Angie, “Don’t trip now!” We pass the group, say our hellos and good lucks, and Haley immediately wiped out. Day = made.

Back at low camp we unroped, didn’t recognize anyone, and carried on to what we assumed was the IMG camp (the Eureka tents are kind of a giveaway). Angie said hi to her coworker, we told everyone it was sunny and glorious above 7200ft, and made our way back to the notch.


Back into the fog

We took a more extended break along the ridge, and pounded downhill where we each had a muddy wipeout (or in my case, two). We devoured salmonberries left and right, leaving none for the parties behind us or the parties coming up or the local bear population. Suckers. I always thought the yellow salmonberries were unripe, but it turns out they’re just a different species! They’re edible too, and taste even better than the red ones.

We were back at the car by 6pm, where my feet were thrilled to be relieved of trail runner duty and assigned to flip flops. I forgot that glacier travel means snow, which will make your feet cold and wet, and that means blisters and pruning and general discomfort (and stink). Yuck. And the crampons had rubbed my ankles raw, which was less than pleasing. Though interestingly, the aches and pains and blisters and wounds on my ankles and feet were no different from what mountaineering boots give them. So maybe my feet are the problem, not the footwear. And my water was still in my pack. No more ghosts.


Baker again

We piled back into the car. Angie fell asleep right away, snoring like a train. I was jealous, but not too tired just yet. Too busy daydreaming about mac n cheese and the chicken bacon ranch sandwich I had in the car. Delicious. We dropped Haley off, and Angie and I headed back to Seattle, where she somehow dragged herself off the couch at 3am AGAIN to get back to Ashford. I did not leave my bed. But in case you’re curious, yes, the water in my camelback had disappeared again when I woke up. 2L of water in plastic doesn’t just evaporate. Bastards, those H2O molecules.


Fresh new kicks. Should have left the crampons on for the picture.

Mt. Rainier via Disappointment Cleaver


Descending the Cleaver on trip 2

I requested Monday off from work, which was a bold move on my part (and still nearly regrettable, despite how incredible the weekend was). Big deadlines Friday, many 12 hour days in a row on top of moving to a new apartment (a process I am still wrapping up as I sit here typing instead of unpacking the four bags on the floor in front of me). Kayla had set up an REI team (well, 3 REI employees, I am sadly an ex-employee) and organized a three day trip, and I was in! Kayla’s a total bad ass who was incredibly helpful and encouraging when I started mountaineering last year, so I couldn’t say no. At one point last year I mentioned to her that I was hoping to go up Rainier with a few friends in April but didn’t have any of the gear, and she showed up to REI the next day unprompted with a bag of overmitts, crampons, slings all nicely daisy-chained, a harness, everything I was missing. That’s the type of person you want to be friends with.

  • Distance: I am honestly not sure. Maybe 18 round trip? 4 to muir, 5 to summit?
  • Elevation: ~9000ft from Paradise to summit
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Weather: 70’s and sunny in the day, maybe 20’s at the summit? Not too bad!
  • Did I Trip: Maybe running to see Kacie. I never legitimately ate it though I don’t think.

JT skinning up

I had a fitful night of sleep in my car in the parking lot listening to other groups of climbers getting started in the early morning, though a few groups bailed due to visibility. I woke up to fog that I knew we’d get above, and met Kayla, Charli, Rick, JT, and Sam all at the ranger station at 7am. We lined up to get camping permits and climbers’ permits, only to be told that everything was gone. Kautz was open, and three spots on Emmons were open, but no spots at Muir or Ingraham Flats. I turned to JT. Kautz?! Rick and Charli laughed. Not happening.

Luckily, a miraculous 20 new spots opened up at Muir, and we were first to snag them. JT and Sam would be staying through Sunday, Kayla Charli Rick and I would be there through Monday. We signed our permits and ran outside to meet our porters(!), who were helping carry group gear up to Muir.

Our porters knew Charli through OSAT, an awesome organization that this weekend would be taking over Camp Muir. I met H, Dustin, and Lord Byron, who packed my tent, shovel, and rope. Sweet! And I wasn’t even carrying skis! Officially the lightest pack of 2016.


The rare appearance of my vestibule

JT was skinning up, and Sam would be battling his knee injury so he decided to take it easy. The rest of us started up, clomping up the Paradise trails in our mountaineering boots. There was patchy snow from the start, but still plenty of rocky stairs to go up, which I knew would be brutal on the way down. We could also see the train of people ahead of us heading up to Muir. It was going to be a crowded weekend.

I went ahead of the group to scout out campsites. At Muir I claimed three spots and awaited our porters when I awkwardly realized I didn’t have a shovel for my platform or a tent to set up on the platform. I got distracted when JT arrived and allowed one of the spots to be poached by squatters. Crap. When JT was done I leveled out my own platform with his shovel, and just as I finished, H arrived with my tent! Woo! I popped it up, guyed it out with some rocks that I then buried with snow (I’m paranoid, remember?) and we made dinner. I whipped out the berries I had jokingly brought for Sam (everyone has their rituals, Sam swears that berries make him feel better at altitude) and passed them around. They were almost as good as the brookies Charli had brought (brownie-cookies) which had half melted in the sun and turned into delicious soft cookie brownie batter lumps. A feast fit for kings. Eventually JT went to slept in his tent, and Sam and I went to sleep in the climbers’ hut so I wouldn’t wake Kayla when I got up for the Sunday morning summit. The climber’s hut was actually a lot of fun, despite everything I had heard about it. It’s small, and dark, and reminded me of Orizaba which was a cozy nostalgic thought. I fell asleep on the bottom bunk listening to the whisper of stoves and the thumping of mountaineering boots on the floor, which is quickly becoming a comforting environment.


Skipping to sunrise, Adams in the back

At 10PM, Sam’s alarm woke the entire hut. I dozed for another 30 minutes as Sam took some night shots from camp, and we met JT at his tent to rope up. We were moving by 11:30. Halfway to Cathedral Rock, JT stopped and dropped his pack. “I just want to make sure I have my camera.” Five minutes later? “…I definitely don’t have my camera. Should I go back for it?” I laughed. Yes, if I were you, I’d absolutely go back for it. 15 minutes later? “Sleepy me is smarter than awake me. It’s in my pack.” Dammit JT.

We made quick work getting to the cleaver, and were on top of it in about two hours if you subtract the camera delay. The moon was a fat, blood red monster above the horizon, looming above the trains of headlamps we could see crossing Ingraham Flats below us. We tried to pass a few groups taking a break, but the leader of one rope team looked straight at JT and made sure their whole team got in front of us. Okay, they must be fast, I get it.


Weaving through crevasses

Except… they weren’t. The team in front of them was having technical issues, and refused to step aside to let everyone pass. We were on a steep traverse, so I suppose I get it, but we spent nearly an hour and a half walking five steps, stopping for ten minutes, shaking and freezing. JT put it nicely. “I am… not a patient person.” I was doing “the washing machine” to stay warm, which we used to do during swim practice when the heater broke. It’s basically a less attractive shimmy. “Sam, you should have brought your camera to take some night shots while we wait.” Missed opportunity! That’s how slow it was. There was an IMG group behind us, and finally the guide yelled at the team ahead to move aside. After several attempts at shouting, they finally listened and moved off the path, and we were all able to pass.


Sunrise over the crater rim

The route overall was in incredible shape. The cleaver is far more enjoyable (more like “far less torturous”) covered in snow, there were no ladders, and only two sections of fixed lines, neither of which we considered necessary. We took more frequent breaks as altitude set in (at one point JT just turned around and said “Well, I’m hitting a wall” while Sam insisted on being dropped off, to which we all agreed “fuck no, you should have eaten more berries, who needs an LCL anyway” and kept walking). There was a small hill to crest a couple hundred feet below the summit crater, and we took a break right next to it. Which was hilarious, because you watch every single climbing team get to the top and think it’ll be the summit crater and boom, another 400 vertical feet to go. I watched so many faces change from sheer joy and excitement to defeat and resignation. But everyone pushed on. We summitted just around sunrise, so maybe 5:30. Wanting to get down by noon, we walked over to the summit register, snapped the obligatory photos, signed the book, and turned around. Going down should go quickly, right?


Me, Sam, and JT summit!


The first awkward bottleneck

Well, we ran into more bottlenecks. Groups were still on their way up while we were trying to go down, and passing other teams in between crevasses or on steep descents can be awkward. We spent maybe 20 minutes at several different points waiting for other teams before we could descend. But hey, there are worse places to be stuck, and the sun was up so it was fairly warm. Going down the cleaver resulted in some unbelievable pictures, and we were back at Muir by 10:30. Yes!! So much sleep!


Another bottleneck near a collapsing snow plug

Kayla had my sleeping bag and pad all laid out in the tent already (yay!!), and I basically went straight to bed. I didn’t hear Sam leave, but I remember saying a sleepy bye to JT before he skiied down from Muir. Sam snowboarded. They were probably back at the cars in like 30 minutes. Jealous. I lay in my sleeping bag trying to sleep and simultaneously nursing my nose, which was already horribly sunburned.

I dozed on and off for a few hours before getting bored and deciding to make food. I ran into the rest of the OSAT crew, who had taken over half of the campsites there. It’s awesome knowing so many people on a climb. I cooked my three cheese pasta and had a bunch of crackers and cheese. We laid out our ropes and gear next to the tents so all we’d have to do in the morning is get up and grab everything, and then we went to bed. So basically, I climbed, slept, ate, and slept, only to wake up and climb again. Living the dream.


Alpenglow at sunrise

We got up at 10:30pm again, with the intention of being moving by 11. We were a little late to our goal, but got on the route around 11:15 or 11:30. Charli and I were on one rope with Kayla and Rick on the other. With far fewer teams on the route this time, we were able to keep a steady pace, which was a relief. We leapfrogged with a Minnesota Nice rope team decked out in all camo. How did I see them, you ask? They should be invisible! Well Mossy Oak doesn’t camouflage well with snow, unfortunately. Wrong camo. But they were good natured and hilarious, and I was glad to be leapfrogging with such a genuine pair.

It was still cold, and windier than the previous day. I pulled my buff over my face only to have it freeze solid because of my breath. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my balaclava. My camera lense froze too, which you’ll notice in most of the photos. One big smudge and a blown out sun. Add that to the list of abuse my camera has endured. And somewhere around 1am on the cleaver, daydreaming, I realized I did not set an out of office email. Shit.
70% of mountaineering is me waiting for the sun to rise and convincing myself that everything will be okay once the sun rises and you can feel your feet again and your face doesn’t hurt and your camera works normally and your water bottle isn’t mostly slush. But Charli had explained why she wanted to summit when we were carrying coils on the cleaver, and I realized I was emotionally invested in everyone getting to the top. That’s not always the case, I can be a little selfish sometimes. But this time around, it was about all four of us getting there.

RMI rope team at sunrise


Coming along the crater rim

Charli trudged behind me as Kayla and Rick brought up the rear. Rick, who I don’t believe I’ve mentioned yet is 62. That’s not a typo. Sixty two. And crushing Mt. Rainier at 4am. We crested the false hill to everyone’s dismay, and pushed on towards the summit. Charli announced that she was done with this shit. A four person team was starting their descent as we gained the crater rim, and when I said hi they laughed and replied “You have your own summit reception party!!” just as Charli behind me said “FUCK my LIFE I hate EVERYTHING” and I burst out laughing. I think I was the only one who heard both teams, but the timing was perfect. Charli apologized for being grumpy and I laughed even harder because grumpy Charli is basically my constant internal dialogue. And of course, 15 feet later, Charli was all smiles.


Rick, Charli, and me on the true summit! Kayla snuggling in a sleeping bag out of frame.

Once on the crater rim, we ran into the OSAT group who had beaten us to the top and exchanged congrats while I hid my blistered nose from view. I was rocking white face from all the sunscreen I had been using too, and still no luck. Kayla was freezing cold so we set her up in my sleeping bag and started making hot chocolate and tea to get her warm again. Rick (62!! Can’t use your age as an excuse anymore Rick!), Charli, and I trekked over to the summit register so we could sign and snap our summit photos, and then returned to Kayla. I kept an eye on where the Emmons route meets the crater rim, hoping we’d see Kacie and Shawna’s OSAT group as well.


Me and Kilo Charlie!

Amazingly, they summitted 15 minutes later! I turned around to see several 4-person rope teams gaining the ridge, and knew it had to be them. I dropped my stuff and ran back across the crater. Literally. Past our Minnesota Camo friends, who had just summitted. I got to the summit register and asked if anyone was with OSAT. I saw Shawna sitting by the register and ran over to say hi, followed by “WHERE’S KACIE?!” “Over there!” “KACIE!!” And there she was!! Kacie Grice, conquering Rainier!


Descending into the clouds

“Come over here so I can smoke downwind.” I cracked up. Top of Rainier, and she’s about to smoke. Well okay. Gotta mark your territory. I went to go sit downwind with her and immediately burned my ass on a fumarole, which I thought was her cigarette until I realized she was smoking her cigarette, which had to mean it was not touching my butt. Amazing how hot those heat vents are even when everything else around you is freezing. We snapped a summit photo of the two of us, and I returned to my friends to start our trek down. Clouds were moving in and the forecast called for thunderstorms, and I didn’t want to end my weekend like that.


Great visibility

The route had already changed, even just in the 24 hours since I had summitted with Sam and JT. One crevasse was widening and had become a significant step, and a snow plug was collapsing piece by piece. The snow plug was still passable going quickly while it was still cold, but late in the day, we’d probably have wanted to set up protection. The larger crevasse had turned into a legitimate jump, and on our way down there was a ladder ready to set up across it. It’s amazing how well the guides care for the route. DC would be a pretty gnarly route in August if it weren’t for their help.


Top of the Cleaver, clouds clearing!

We were back at camp around noon, leaving us two hours before our porters met us. We made food, napped, chatted, and I basked at how I was chilling on a glacier instead of sitting at a desk in front of Excel. I tied a shirt around my face to block the sun because everything hurt. Lord Byron and Dustin arrived and told us H wasn’t coming because he wasn’t feeling well, but as we were packing up, who comes trudging through camp? H! Pushing through the pain to help us get down. And they had bought us fresh fruit and coconut water! Guys, apples taste SO GOOD on climbs. So good. So do blueberries. I bring shitty food on climbs. That needs to change.


Glissading! Woohoo!

We began the glissade descent to Paradise. Dustin had mapped out every glissade chute, and even named some of the steeper ones. Glissading is both hilarious and efficient. It’s like sledding for adults. My allegedly waterproof pants were soaked through after a few chutes, but that’s not enough to stop anyone! Once past the glissade chutes we fought through the stone stairs of knee destroying doom and Kayla figured out a shortcut to the overnight parking lot so we didn’t have to go by the ranger station. Yes!


I cramponed my spork 😦

I got to the car and realized something was missing. My hat!! Not my hat! Shit I just lost Hat 1.0 like a month and a half ago, how did I already lose this one?!?! Okay Eve calm down deep breath let’s walk a little ways back up the trail and maybe it’ll turn up and YES there it IS IT’S LYING IN THE PARKING LOT I have never been so relieved in my life. I slathered lotion on my sunburned face and we regrouped with the team to figure out where to grab dinner. I suggested treating our porters to dinner and of course everyone agreed. We settled on a small pub about 2.5-3 miles from the national park gate.


Looking back up at Rainier from near Paradise

I was pretty tired. I knew it was going to be a long drive, so I was thrilled to break it up a bit. And lemonade is always so freaking good after a climb. We devoured our burgers and fries and I chugged several pink lemonades (lies! they were yellow! The waitress warned us though). I put more lotion on my face. And ate more. I couldn’t finish my burger, which was weird. I’ll chalk it up to the sunburn. No one was spared. Rick had a raccoon burn going, Kayla’s arms were lobster red, and I look like someone had tried to make a creme brulee out of my face.

Huge, huge thanks to everyone who was involved in this weekend. It was an awesome weekend with perfect conditions and good company, and it’s amazing that everyone summitted successfully. You guys are all bad asses. And honorable mention to my dermatologist, who didn’t fire me as a patient when I showed up at 7:30am on Tuesday with high alpine facial burns.

Selfie with the summit marker

Ixtaccihuatl and Orizaba


Popocatepetl over Ixta’s ridges

A week full of sunshine, limericks, guacamole, and a little bit of climbing. What more can you ask for? Well for starters, the guac-to-chip ratio in Mexico seems to be much lower than it is in my kitchen. And the sunshine was a pleasant surprise. Even Mountain Forecast, the notoriously optimistic mountain weather predictor, was calling for snow up high every. Single. Day. Psych! We had perfect weather windows for both climbs. Man, I almost don’t want to write this entry, because once I’m done with it, the trip will officially be over.

Well let’s start with getting to Mexico. I’m not a traveler. I have left the country once in the past eight years, and it was with family, so I mostly ignored everything that was going on. I woke up on the plane to some vague Spanish forms sitting in my lap. Okay, these must be for customs. Got those filled out. Passed out all of my extra pens to needy travelers in the customs line (I was politely reprimanded by my boss for not having a pen at a meeting, and now there are like 15+ in my purse at any given moment in time) like a Customs Hero, and picked up my absurdly large canvas duffle bag that my boss lent me before running into Angie (yay!), Erin, and Kali, who had all planned to meet at the airport. We swapped dollars for pesos, hopped into a cab, and headed to the hotel.


How weather was much of the time (featuring Angie’s Bottom)

The first night was quiet. Everyone was just getting to know each other. Erin was from Seattle, Dave was from Evanston (where I went to college), so there were a few connections. A few climbers already knew the guides, Dallas and Austin. Dallas knew our guide from our ridiculously fun trip up Shuksan well and had some funny stories about the two of them. Everyone was talking about their experiences: Denali, China, Aconcagua, treks well above 13,000ft, Ecuador volcanoes. And what did I have? I, uhhh, well, I climbed Rainier a few times, and some smaller peaks in the Cascades? And one time I ran 10 miles at 10,000ft in Colorado while looking at mountains, does that count? I passed out that time though, so maybe not. What does diamox feel like? When should I take it? Does 20 degrees feel colder at 17,000ft than it does at 14,000ft? Maybe I should have asked Angie’s dad if I could borrow puffy pants in addition to his soft shell pants. I glanced down, concerned at the number of chips left without guac on my plate. The other end of the table doesn’t like guac, maybe I can get theirs. They don’t know I’m a human garbage disposal yet.

We headed up for a light day hike at the base of Ixta the next day. Light packs, short mellow terrain. It’s crazy that there are trees and roads up to 13,000ft in Mexico. To reach that in Washington, you’re either on a glacier or a plane. I put Angie’s fancy Suunto in my bag, because I realized I didn’t notice the altitude until someone else pointed it out. Maybe if I just didn’t know what we were at, I’d never notice.


Nassella Tenuissima (mountain grass!)

The hike was pleasant. A jeep engine overheated (not our group, just a Mexican family who kept honking the horn as if that’d fix it – turn the heat on full blast, that helps at least a little), a few runners were getting in some high altitude training, and the grasses were amazing. I asked what the grass was called, and got “mountain grass?” in response. Of course immediately after I post pictures on Facebook, my horticulturalist mother jumps in – “Nassella Tenuissima!! I just planted this in breezy!” Well, I’ll have a little taste of Ixtaccihuatl in Queens, NY next summer. Sweet.

We went back down to the town of Amecameca (~8000ft) to sleep low, climb high. We almost got nailed by cars crossing the street to get to dinner, but made it. Dramatic 20ft run. I ordered paella, which I knew had shrimp in it, but i wasn’t expecting it to also be stuffed with seashells with a whole fucking crab on top. For those who don’t know me, even the smell of seafood is enough to send me running to the nearest vomit receptacle (bathroom doesn’t convey the urgency involved). It was a brutal dinner. Luckily we had ordered an outrageous amount of appetizers, so I was pretty full anyway.

The next morning, we carried gear to high camp. I’m a chatty hiker, and frequently need to find ways to entertain myself. Like a 5 year old. But as a wise man once said (okay, dad) “only boring people get bored.” So I started writing limericks, and got Angie to try her hand at it too. The first one was about Angie getting sunburned. Spoiler alert: It was me who ended up sunburned.

Poor Angie is already burned
You’d think that by now she’d have learned
She’s whiter than flour
And fries in an hour
And soon the outdoors she’ll have spurned.


The hut on Ixta

Those last lines are damn hard, every time. Soon enough I got Barb talking about lizards (she’s done all sorts of cool research in Baja) and that kept me occupied for a bit, and then Kali told us about some of her military training. I soon realized I would need a belt for the pants I had borrowed from Angie’s dad, and spent the rest of the hike mentally sorting through the few belongings I had brought to Mexico. Eventually I settled on a prussik and a runner, neither of which would be necessary on the climbs. I girth hitched them together to fit around my waist. I’ll refrain from making a fat joke.

We spent that night in a hut around 13,000ft. Dinner was quesadillas, more guac (enough guac this time), tortillas, man I don’t even remember at this point but it’s 7am and I’d freaking love that meal all over again. Popocatepetl poked out from the clouds a few times, and Kali pointed out a few constellations and navigational stars, which was pretty neat. We’ll see if I remember them. I think I’ll be relying on an app (I’m sure there’s an app for that) like the pleb that I am.

The next day was back up to high camp, where we relaxed for the afternoon and went to bed early. I suck at sitting around without something to distract me (a book, netflix, music, you get the idea), so I wrote another limerick as I demolished an entire 12oz box of Wheat Thins. Appetite: 1, altitude: 0.

No one is hungry up high
No cravings when you touch the sky
Just headaches and pee
Unless you are me

And could devour a whole goddamn pie.


High camp on Ixta

Apple pie sounded amazing right then and there. But alas, no pie. Angie wrote a few hilarious haikus (you can read her full poetry collection on her blog here) which were ten times as funny because she made herself laugh so hard she couldn’t even recite them, she had to write them down and have me read them. Here’s a great example when I suggested we write limericks about “I dunno, rocks, we’re surrounded by rocks?”

Writing about rocks is hard
When you don’t give a damn about rocks
Shit that doesn’t rhyme
I guess I just need some time
To have an opinion on rocks.

Once she decided to nap, I just dozed in the sun and listened to some trance until it was time for dinner and an early bedtime.

Halfway through the night I realized my face was sunburned. It was burning against my warm zero degree sleeping bag. God dammit. I didn’t sleep much. You could hear Popo grumbling in the distance, which was oddly unsettling and fascinating both at once. I had taken a half dose of diamox for the first time and was dealing with all the tingliness that comes along with it. Luckily it didn’t make me have to pee constantly, which is apparently the other main side effect.


Popocatepetl from high camp on Ixta

We got up around midnight, had a quick breakfast, and started off. Kali suggested playing “the country game” which goes like this: name every country that starts with A, then every country that starts with B, etc. I was fifth, and it was my turn. “Albania!” Already said. Hmm, Australia! That was said too. Armenia? Yup. AZERBAIJAN! No one knows that one, I thought proudly. Except everyone laughed, because Angie had just said it. Fine, uhh, Argentina. Fuckers. The morning was off to a great start. I suck at geography. We gave up at C.

Ixta is mostly a kitty litter filled scramble full of ups and downs and it would be pretty miserable if it didn’t have so many ridges to walk. There was snow for maybe a quarter mile if that, and the rest was just rock. Apparently the glacier used to be a large, crevassed beast, but what’s left of it is small and mellow. It was still damn cold, and Fozzy’s hot gatorade (it’s better than it sounds) was an awesome treat at every break. Much nicer to drink than ice cold water. I have a hard time drinking fluids, so I had made all my water bottle into raspberry lemonade hoping it’d make hydrating more fun. Should have made them all hot gatorade.

There’s a false summit, too, so don’t get your hopes up. Fozzy had warned us, so I was ready. He probably only mentioned it because I’m like a little kid in a car. Except instead of “are we there yet?” it’s “is that the summit?” I was trying to figure out how the body parts of Ixta worked and couldn’t just ask “where are the boobies?!” We weren’t on that level yet.


Ixta summit selfie!

We actually beat sunrise to the top, so Angie and I took a great summit selfie in the dark. We were at the top I swear. Angie hilariously couldn’t get her goretex pants to fit over harness, and laughing kept me almost warm in the pre dawn morning at 17,000ft.


Dallas and Austin’s rope teams coming down the ridge

The way back took longer than expected. We flew down the first section and paused to wait while I snapped more pictures of sunrise and the rest of our team coming down the ridge. Orizaba poked out in the distance. That’s where we were headed next! Clouds rolled in as we descended. Back to high camp to pack everything up and then to the vans down below, where beer, fresh sandwiches (mayo, avocado, cheese, turkey… oh man, amazing), and coke with real sugar(!) waited for us. Yeah, I ate the extra sandwiches.


Sunrise on the way down from the summit

We shipped our gear off to Tlachichuca, the town we were staying at below Orizaba, and hopped into the vans with our casual wear. “It’ll take 2 hours to get to town” we were told. And by 2 hours, they meant 3 and a half hours down bumpy dirt roads, so don’t expect to sleep in the car. Austin sniffed his clothes and announced that he “had a certain stench about him,” so I took the liberty of writing a limerick. Anything to stay entertained on that damn dirt road.

Our guide smells like sweat and B.O.
We wonder “oh when will it go?!”
But we can’t give him shit
Cause we have to admit
Do we smell like roses? Hell no!

Two climbers along one of the few icy sections

We spent the night in Puebla, which is a major city, not a small town like I expected. We checked out a few cathedrals, and got an amazing dinner followed by desserts on the house. Desserts were delicious, and so eloquently described by Erin – “sugary and the crust is just delicious!” Okay Erin, that’s about what we expect from a cookie, care to elaborate? You have such a way with words. The restaurant was also where we suffered the only injury of our entire trip: Barb tripped over a flower pot and got a sweet bruise. Orizaba and Ixta dealt no damage, but man those damn flowers were a hazard.


The hut on Orizaba

The next day we went up to the hut around 14,000ft on Orizaba. This was one of the coolest parts of the climb. I’ve never climbed outside the Cascades. The hut on Orizaba had so many climbers from so many different countries! Spanish, English, Italian, and German were all being spoken, and probably a few others that I’m forgetting. It had been foggy all day, and we only got a glimpse of the peak for 15 minutes but everyone ran outside to look at it and was chattering in whatever language came to mind first (English because I’m a true gringo).


Rainbow! Yeah baby!

There was even a rainbow! I had gone outside to use the bathroom and nearly fell over when I realized there was a rainbow and whipped around to go tell everyone. The Armenian team (I think) laughed at me but let’s be real they were just as excited about it. But besides those few brief moments, we were socked in by clouds.

Given the weather, we expected to leave camp in full goretex for the climb. Ugh. Just wait until I’m out the door. Even if it’s five minutes after we leave, just let me leave the hut in dry weather. I scurried up to my top shelf bunk (like the fine liquor right), popped another half diamox (please don’t have to pee please don’t make me have to pee) crawled into my sleeping bag and watched Fozzy, Dallas, and Austin cook. Angie and I narrated it like it was Iron Chef. That was hands down the best dinner we had the entire trip, in my opinion. Better than the place in Puebla, better than the steak restaurant we went to the last night. Orizaba Hut Kitchen was the best.


Fozzy’s team (I think) with Orizaba’s shadow

After dinner I drifted in and out of sleep listening to a few other guides and teams chat. We woke up around midnight again, to clear, starry skies! Yes! And it wasn’t even that cold! Fuck yes! I had brought overboots for my Nepal Evos because I couldn’t track down plastics quickly enough (or cheaply enough) and I was hoping to not have to use them. What I didn’t say is that my crampons were so damn old and rusty that they’re almost impossible to adjust, and that’s the real reason I didn’t want to deal with overboots. I tossed them in my pack and hoped for the best.

I actually felt pretty crappy starting out. Dehydration, probably, knowing me. Just sluggish and unmotivated. I was a little psyched out for the climb since I had only heard how tired/dehydrated/destroyed I’d be on the way down, and how long/tedious/cold the glacier was. I mean seriously guys, the bar was on the ground at that point. My expectations could not have been lower. During the first break Steve asked why no limericks, and I recited the most recent one about Austin being smelly to a few chuckles. It actually made me feel way better. Everything is a mental game, I guess.

Team above us on the way down, just before middle man tripped

Aaaaaand my feet were fine. As I was warned before the trip, they were uncomfortably cold, but they were fine. The rest of me was uncomfortably cold too, because we never really got moving fast enough for me to completely warm up, and breaks were miserably long and cold. And once we hit the glacier, the rope teams got a bit separated and I didn’t have Fozzy to pamper me with hot gatorade. I reverted back to my old distraction – taking photos. I suck at photography, but it kills time. So I have 50 pictures of the other two teams below with the mountain shadow in the background, and a team climbing above us. The team above us had one picture come out great, but what you don’t know is that the middle person is about to trip. He saw me taking pictures. He knows I documented it.

We took a long break just below the summit. Kali and I were bitching about being cold. “Put on your goretex pants!” Austin suggested. “Or just go faster…” Kali muttered, to which I perked up and added “or shorter breaks!” A few second later we saw something black tumbling down the glacier from one of our other rope teams. “That looks important…” Austin said. He was right. RIP Dave’s Camera. Hope we didn’t lose any awesome photos of me. I mean, hope you didn’t lose any great photos. Hopefully we took enough to make up for it!

After we got started again, I was laughing at how many switchbacks we had made and heard Kali exclaim behind me “What are we taking, the scenic route?!” and I burst out laughing and from there on out we were Team Scenic Route.


Team Scenic Route on top!

We finally made it to the ridge along the summit, and holy. Shit. That crater is awesome. I was expecting a Rainier type crater, but this was way more dramatic. Deep enough you couldn’t see the bottom, and surrounded by jagged, icy alpine edges. Totally neat. We spent almost an hour up there, I think. Pictures, snacks, frozen goldfish, frozen maple butter, crystal light (it is more fun than water). Apparently it was a surprisingly warm day for Orizaba, and thank god it was. No complaints here.


The awesome crater. Yeah yeah I know I need to fix the sun


Austin with Kali about to do a handstand on the edge of the world

We went back down the glacier at a moderate pace with Kali leading the charge, and that was the only time I was warm that whole day. We got to the bottom and waited another half hour (at least, that’s how it felt) for everyone to regroup and have some snacks and water. By the time we were moving, I was cold again. Man. The rest of the way back down the rock (and through the labyrinth, which I still have no idea how anyone knows where they’re going) the clouds were closing in, and we heard a bit of thunder. By the time we were nearing the hut, it was completely foggy again. We had gotten the perfect weather window for climbing.


Small section of the labyrinth

Back at the hut we packed everything up and loaded into vans to head back to the Reyes compound for the night. Their food is SO good. I mean I stand by my earlier statement (Orizaba Hut Kitchen was best kitchen), but the Reyes’s have some awesome food. And background music. We made a fire thanks to Austin’s boy scout skills, and sat around it figuring out what the hell to write in the guest book. We wanted a limerick, but I had to sleep on that one.

Bedtime was glorious. I slept so freaking well that night. The next morning we had a quick breakfast and piled back into the vans to return to Mexico City. I scrawled a limerick (okay, I made Angie write it because my handwriting is so bad) in the guest book. Barb had written a beautiful description about everyone’s efforts, the amazing weather windows we had on each peak, and the generosity of the Reyes family for hosting us in such a lovely place. And I followed that up with this:

Glaciers will stubbornly test
Whether you can get by with no rest
Put showers on hold
Just deal with the cold

And shitting in bags is the best!

Perfect contrast.

The way back to Mexico City was uneventful besides 1) the coffee place was out of the oreo mocha milkshake which was a bummer, so we got ice cream next door at 10am and 2) we thought the car’s air conditioning was broken until we were like 15 minutes from the hotel in Mexico City. We finally all joked about baking in the car and the driver was like “why didn’t you say anything?!” I just assumed the AC was broken! Jeez, it had gotten to the point where I got excited every time the car had to curve slightly right because it meant air from the front windows (back windows didn’t open) would reach the back row and blow in my face.


Orizaba summit selfie!

We got there in the early afternoon, and us ladies went out to explore a nearby plaza. Instead we ended up with tacos, margaritas, and mojitos at a bar. And it was great. Round 2? Why the hell not? It was warm, sunny, and finally felt like a vacation! I have no idea what the guys did, but there’s no way they had as much fun as we did. We had a quick siesta back at the hotel before meeting up with everyone for dinner.


The lovely bathroom accomodations on Orizaba (photo credit Steve)

That night was full of wine, steak, tequila (“…We… we need more!” was the immediate response to the waiter when he brought the first few glasses of tequila over) and general hilarity. At this point, everyone knew each other much better than the first night, and with a few drinks to fuel the fire, I think I almost cried laughing at several points. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off so everyone could get nice mescal with Fozzy’s advice, and back at the hotel… we decided to go to a bar instead. One last hurrah.

Sunday morning was a gloomy, sad-to-be-leaving affair. Angie and I ran into Dallas and Austin at breakfast, and later saw Barb with her friend Georgie as well. I was busy being mopey. The flights back were lame. Everything was lame. I got a crappy bag of cheesy chips that were overall disappointing. The security agent in the Mexico airport didn’t believe I didn’t have a laptop or tablet. I forgot to buy cheez its for my flight. I had a layover in Atlanta. The Entourage Movie was underwhelming. I had to pay to watch Amy, so I didn’t watch it. But I did get to watch Fast & Furious 5, 6, and 7 all in a row, which was nice I guess. And I got a huge beautiful SUV cab back to my apartment for the same cost as a regular cab because there were no regular cabs. Small miracles.

Oh, and then upon my return I threw everything into the wash, including my ipod. RIP tiny nano, you have served me well. Mexico was a great last hurrah.


Group summit photo on Orizaba! Stolen from IMG’s blog, no idea who took it since it isn’t in our shared folder 😦

Seriously, awesome trip. Great people, great location, unbelievably well organized. That Orizaba Hut Kitchen meal will never be repeated but it’ll be in my top 5 meals for a while (with Ruth’s Chris in Seattle once, the big mac I had the other night, this restaurant I can’t remember in Barcelona that was near our apartment, and New Park Pizza after Hurricane Sandy). Everyone in our group was easygoing with a great sense of humor, and I couldn’t have asked for better company. Team Scenic Route, it’ll be a dream if I get to climb with you guys again! Congrats on two spectacular summits and a fantastic trip.

Mt. Shuksan (via Fisher Chimneys)

Whose beautiful Nemo tent is that

Whose beautiful Nemo tent is that

Turns out mountaineering gear is good for many things, like snow, cold weather, and the high winds that accompany sitting in the bed of a pickup truck on the highway. Okay, now between that and the title, you can probably already extrapolate exactly what happened. But assuming you’re here for pretty pictures and entertainment, you might as well read on.

  • Distance: 24 miles, I think
  • Elevation: I don’t want to know
  • Weather: Mountain-forecast is a liar. Fog, fog, snow, and fog, and 30’s to 40’s
  • Commute from Seattle: well that depends which trailhead you’re starting at. Fisher Chimneys is about 3 hours, Sulphide is about 2:30
  • Did I Trip: I slow-motion sat once
  • GPX file: haha, no, because then you’ll see how many tries it took us just to find the damn chimneys

I’m convinced that climbers keep this route description a little convoluted just to maintain the challenge, and keep us plebs out. I’ll see if I can maintain that while giving you a bit more to chew on.

We left Seattle at 6am on Saturday. I’m usually all about trailhead camping and early starts, but this seemed like it’d be a quick route, so why not be a little more casual? We had sunny blue skies pulling up to the trailhead, and Shuksan was snow covered and stunning with fresh snow. I haven’t been so excited for a climb in a long time. Fisher Chimneys had been a route I had wanted to try for months, and here was the chance!

Bonus pic: It totally looks like a bird. Seahawk Serac. (Go Pats!)

Bonus pic: It totally looks like a bird. Seahawk Serac. (Go Pats!)

We set off on the trail, immediately hiking down into a valley full of fog. And… that would be the last time we saw the sun pretty much for days. With the exception of a few glimpses here and there.

Fall color starting along the Lake Ann trail

Fall color starting along the Lake Ann trail

The trail to Lake Ann is very well maintained and easy to follow, though there are a few offshoots to other areas as well. We passed plenty of people on their way to and from the lake, everyone hoping we’d get above the fog. Fall color was just barely beginning to show, though we couldn’t see much of our surroundings due to the mist.

We chatted with a hiker who had been up the Fisher Chimneys route before, and I almost didn’t ask but finally caved. I had heard rumors of a composting toilet somewhere on the chimneys route: was it true? He laughed. “No, but it’s a great route for chuckadook.” I giggled. Chuckadook? Is that what it sounds like? “Yep, you find a nice flat rock, drop a dookie, pick it up, and use the rock to fling it as far as you can. Beats a blue bag!” I could have cried laughing. What was even better was the young girl with them (maybe 10) trying not to giggle, and the look of horror on who I can only assume was this man’s mother. We wished them a good hike and as they walked off I heard her go “TWO MINUTES AND THAT’S ALL IT TOOK FOR YOU TO TALK ABOUT POOP” “no no it’s okay they get it they’re climbers, it’s just a normal topic of conversation” and they faded into the distance while I tried to regain composure, still giggling about “chuckadook.”

Foggy Lake Ann from near the bottom of the Chimneys

Foggy Lake Ann from near the bottom of the Chimneys

We didn’t even know we had reached the lake until we were nearly past it, because you couldn’t see it through the fog. I hear it’s beautiful, I’ve seen pictures of Shuksan looming over it, and all we had was a wall of white. We took the boot path to the left, a much more well maintained trail than I thought. It turns out the trail goes all the way to the Lower Curtis Glacier. Which we didn’t realize, until it was too late.

Hint: The standard route departs from the trail several gullies before the Lower Curtis Glacier. We were socked in by fog, and finally decided to take a snack break and check a map to see if we could get our bearings. We heard a huge rumble in the background – what was that?! a plane? Rock fall? Who knows. We definitely need to gain elevation, and might have passed the turnoff/scramble that will lead us to the Chimneys… okay, so we need to backtrack. Whatever, goldfish and kind bars first.

And the skies clear! Upper Curtis and Lower Curtis

And the skies clear! Upper Curtis (where Hell’s Highway is) and Lower Curtis

And suddenly I hear “WHOA! WHOA OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHOAAAAA!” (double rainbow word for word with an equal level of enthusiasm) and I turn around to see the clouds clearing, and we’re sitting freaking 20 feet away from the Lower Curtis, which has a stark terminus full of jagged seracs all lined up, with hell’s highway and dramatic rocky peaks suspended above it. Hoooly shit. I nearly fell over. This is what it looks like. This is where we are, and we had no idea. That rumbling had been the freakin glacier! There was still a small pool of cloud hanging just over the glacier, but Shukan is a beautiful mountain. Nothing can compare.

Well, now it was certain we had overshot. So we backtracked to where the Fisher Chimneys trail turned off, which is clearly marked by cairns, I’m apparently just blind. This led us up to a stream, which we eventually concluded needed to be crossed, following by some vague scrambling that finally dumped us onto a boot path for a while. Thank goodness, because we were not doing so hot with navigation.

Bottom of Lower Curtis - those seracs!

Bottom of Lower Curtis – those seracs!

For the next hour or so, everything went smoothly. We had trail, we had maps, we had cairns. Finally we reached the entrance to the chimneys. “It’s a really obvious gully” we were told. Well to whoever said that: you’re full of shit. We tested several different gullies before finally finding one that didn’t involve class 5 moves along mossy rocks, and we were off.

Guys, I love this shit. Almost as much as I love technical glacier travel. Fisher Chimneys was great because the few fourth class moves you encounter are like solving puzzles. There were several very exposed parts, so I would not attempt this one until you’re pretty comfortable on rock. We did belay Ben up one section, though I think it was all in his head because as soon as John had him on belay, he scaled the wall like it was nothing. Lucky for us, despite the clouds and occasional rain, the rocks were still pretty dry.

John during part of the scramble

John during part of the scramble

We hit snow a few dozen vertical feet below the White Salmon Glacier, and upon cresting the ridge, I started to relax. The chimneys had gotten stressful towards the top since it turns out not everyone enjoys exposed scrambles as much as I do, and I was happy to get to terrain that everyone in the group knew well. We roped up and aimed for winnie’s slide, which we found like 15 minutes later. It’s close.

And we were just in time, because it was dark within 20 minutes. We were originally planning to camp higher, but this would do. We found two tent sites and set up. Clouds stayed where they were, and moments after I pitched my tent, it started to snow. We cooked in the vestibule, and I heated extra water so I could sleep with a warm water bottle.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home (Winnie’s Slide on the left)

I spent the whole night freezing. I have no idea why, but I was so cold. Just not feeling it, I guess. I need a warmer sleeping bag, I know that. Mine’s rated to 15 degrees, but the “comfort” rating is 30 degrees. It wasn’t as bad as Shuksan back in August, though, because at least all of my belongings weren’t soaked through with water. Too cold to sleep, I more or less waited for morning. I figured I could nap during the day, since we knew conditions would be lousy and planned to lie low.

Morning came eventually, and I sat up when I heard John and Ben rustling around in their tent. I opened my door, and it was snowing real snowflakes, fat, white, cold snowflakes, like Christmas! I couldn’t help being thrilled, the first snow of the year always fills me with a childish joy, and this was real snow. We crossed our fingers and hoped for it to clear up, and spent the next six or so hours eating, napping, whatever kept us happy.

Crevasses and moderate visibility (not the worst we had all trip...)

Crevasses and moderate visibility (not the worst we had all trip…)

Towards early afternoon, we figured this was about as good as it was going to get, and we packed up to move to a higher camp. Winnie’s slide was in better shape than we thought. Reports had said it was entirely exposed ice, but with the recent snow, we could kick steps, and the group before us had left nice tracks. The snow was pretty solid, though conditions wouldn’t stay that good for that long.

And it was a good thing we camped below the slide, because at the top were two tents from the other group! Unoccupied, so we figured they must have gone for the summit. We passed them and got onto hell’s highway along the upper curtis glacier, which was very, very heavily crevassed. Reminiscent of the DC route crevassed. Okay, maybe not that big, but bigger than we had dealt with on Coleman Deming, and bigger than Eldorado, and bigger than the Sulphide. We even had to set up protection across a crevasse with a dicey looking snow bridge that you had to climb down a bit to reach before traversing. John belayed me first with two ice screws as an anchor, I scampered across and set up a deadman’s on the other side due to lack of ice. The snow was basically concrete on the other side. Ben was next, and once he was across, I belayed John. We cleaned up our gear and got started again. We had known there was one tough crevasse to cross, and we figured that had to be it.

I bet it'd be stunning in clear weather

I bet it’d be stunning in clear weather

For once we were right, and the rest was clear sailing. Which is great, because it turns out crevasses are a lot harder to navigate when you can only see 15-20 feet in front of you. If we walk parallel to this one, will it end and we’ll be able to just go around it, or will it keep going until it meets a cliff or a bigger crevasse? You just don’t know. Fortunately, we made it to the base of the cliffs above the Upper Curtis, and we knew to hug those until we could hop up to meet the Sulphide, which came up quickly.

The ramp up to the Sulphide was a tough section. Very steep, and by now the snow had softened enough in the warmth that there was plenty of sloughing coming down towards us. We finally saw the other group on their way down. We moved over to the side below a small rocky outcropping to avoid the pinwheels they were triggering as well as any potential larger issues we probably didn’t want to voice. We’d move quickly. As they passed us, we asked how it was, and they seemed exhausted and unhappy. Rough, I assumed. Long day, summitting in those conditions from camp just above Winnie’s Slide.

Once they had passed and were around the corner below us, it was our turn to tackle the slope, and we needed to move fast. I headed straight up the shortest section. Suddenly there was snow tumbling towards me, not a slide, but some big chunks that had sloughed off the slope. I froze. Am I in the line of fire? Yes. Can those knock me off my feet? Yes. Shit. Can I move to the side? No. Okay great, duck. And that’s what I did. I hit the ground. Had I thought faster, I might have been able to get my pack over my head, but I haven’t gotten those reflexes boiled down to instinct yet. I threw my arms over my head after the first few large chunk hit my head (it was like getting hit with a watermelon at 20mph, my neck felt it for days) and stayed like that until I heard John yell 30 seconds later. I wiggled my arms and shoulders free and got the snow off my back and kicked aside the small wall of snow that had built up around my body. Fuck you, snow. And that’s one of the many reasons why we wear helmets. I’m just lucky it was sloughing and not an actual slide. Yikes. “Hint of avalanche.”

Towards the top, it got steep enough I was wishing I had used my ice tool rather than axe, not to mention that beneath the foot of unconsolidated snow was solid ice. But that was just a few feet, so some near-front-pointing with the crampons and good balance did the trick.

No, he isn't crawling on the ground, it's just that steep (photo credit to John)

No, he isn’t crawling on the ground, it’s just that steep (photo credit to John)

Over the top, we could just barely make out the area where I had seen tents the last time I was on Shuksan. Except this time, there were two nice crevasses running through the flat area. Well, shit. I told Ben and John we’d keep moving until we found a relatively flat, safe area, and set up camp there. So we started heading up the Sulphide.

The fog got thicker. We did a fine job with the crevasses, which were far more prevalent than in mid August. The difference three weeks makes is amazing. The horizon started to blend everything together. Foggy sky was impossible to differentiate from snow, and I can see how people can get disoriented so easily. The crevasses were the only things keeping me in line. I pulled out the map, and it looked like there would be a flat ish spot up to our left. I pow-wowed with John, his GPS said the same thing. That’s what we’d aim for.

We finally got there. We knew where we were on the map, but had no idea how views would be. And we left the trusty blue shovel in the car, so leveling tent platforms was up to axes and crampons. I started scraping out a spot for myself, trampling it with my crampons like a dog walking in circles before it lies down. My tent is pretty small and all things considered we had found a pretty level spot, so it wasn’t a problem. I set up my tent, deadmanned the shit out of it (seriously, it was so well anchored it took me like half an hour to dig it all up the next morning) so if conditions deteriorated further, it was going to take some serious winds to toss me around. Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s a true mountaineering tent. I’m scared of wind, if you can’t tell. Snow, whatever, rain, meh, fog, meh, wind…. as soon as it’s dark and windy, I’m gonna be on edge.

We heard voices above us, but couldn’t see anyone. I went to go pee. Guys, if I’m not back in ten minutes, come looking for me. Terrible way to go out. But ten feet from the tent, I was out of sight. Sweet. I got back, and got ready to cook. Suddenly I felt sun on my face, and looked up. I think John and Ben saw the look of wonder on my face. “John, turn around.”

The summit pyramid was out, covered in fresh snow, the sky was blue for the first time since Friday morning (and that one glimpse of the glacier) and we could see a group of three descending! I took some sweet pics of them beneath the pyramid, and waited for them to get closer. As they passed our tent, I ran to talk to them (And mostly to ask for permission to get photos of them walking past). Because Baker was out, above the clouds, with the sun shining behind it! Koma freakin Kulshan, in all her glory.

Mountain Madness

Mountain Madness

The three climbers were two clients led by a Mountain Madness guide. They hadn’t summitted due to the central gully being a bowling alley of rock and ice. The group that had accompanied us up Fisher Chimneys had gotten stuck on the summit for hours, waiting for conditions to improve before descending. Brutal day. I chatted with the second climber, Maureen, who was an upbeat, bright person whose laugh cheered me up immediately. She was thrilled about the pictures, too, and I set myself up to snap a few more as they continued down. I think this resulted in the best picture I’ve taken in my life to date.

After they were out of sight, we made dinner and went to bed. The clouds moved back in maybe 15 minutes after we chatted with them, and we were back to whiteout. We set alarms for 3am, and figured we’d play it by ear. I slept like a baby. Warm, cozy, tired, content.

The best picture I have taken in my life

The best picture I have taken in my life

The alarm went off at 3am, and I almost didn’t even get up. I had… not a bad feeling, but a general reluctance. It was clear, stars were out, but I was uneasy. I didn’t care if we summitted. And I’m an impatient, hotheaded kid, too. I interpreted my lack of drive as a bad feeling. John was feeling the same way. We waited an hour to see if it stayed clear, and it did, but we decided to just not go. Soon enough, we were enclosed in our foggy bubble again.

I showered myself with frosh in the morning, inside and outside the tent

I showered myself with frosh in the morning, inside and outside the tent

We got up around 8am, and after a BLELGFDKSDGKFK of frost in my face when I sat up into the wall of my tent, I was excited to see a 6 person rope approaching. That HAD to be Miyar Adventures. I knew Anthony and Sandeep were leading a group, and I know how they feel about 6 person rope teams. I sat back and patiently awaited. 1) I was excited to meet Sandeep, who I had talked to but never met, 2) I was happy to see Anthony again, and 3) at this point, it had been decided that not everyone was okay going down Fisher Chimneys given the conditions, and we were going down Sulphide. And that meant, we might need a ride back to town.

Sandeep was in the lead. “Are you with Miyar adventures?!” I shouted. He seemed surprised. “Yes!” “Sandeep!?” “Yes, how did you know?” “I’m Eve!” He laughed and we shook hands. We chatted about the route, I told him what the previous two groups had told us, and then I went to go say hi to Anthony. He saw me coming, and recognized me. Is it the orange jacket? It must be the bright orange jacket. We talked for a bit and finally I explained the situation and asked for a potential ride. The answer was yes. I had a feeling we’d beat them to the trailhead, but if we made it down around the same time (or if we were still trekking along the road when they drove past us), at least we’d have a backup ride. I felt a hundred times better knowing that.

Pretty but not too happy with that windy lenticular

Pretty but not too happy with that windy lenticular

We packed up after the Miyar group carried on, and headed back down. I was excited for this, because it’d be a test of how well I could follow a route I had done once before, but in far lower visibility. We had tracks, but they branched off several times, and you never know when they’d dead end in a crevasse. Besides a few more sloughing slopes that we crossed quickly, it was smooth sailing. We made it off the glacier to the rocks with the tidepools I mentioned last time, and headed for the notch. It was a much easier downclimb than the chimneys would have been, I’ll give you that.

Hobo burrito wrapper note

Hobo burrito wrapper note

Back at the trailhead, I snagged the pen from the hiker registry and left a quick note for Anthony on my burrito wrapper, which I tucked beneath the windshield wipers of a car I was 90% sure belonged to someone in his group. Oh, by the way, that burrito had refrozen, and on the second night I slept snuggled up to a cold ass brick of a burrito hoping to thaw it so I could have a delicious breakfast. The note said something along the lines of “we made it down, if you see some sad hikers on the road, that’s probably us!” and I left a P.S. about how much Happy Corn I had eaten. That shit’s delicious.

**If anyone on the Miyar team is reading this, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to give us rides. Even though we didn’t need them, the peace of mind it gave me was much, much appreciated.

Eff this shit

Figured I’d capture my “eff this shit” moment

We hiked six miles to the Baker Lake road. Ben noticed I was limping a bit – I have no idea what happened, but some tendon in my knee was not happy with the forest road. I’ll never know. I was dreading it, though. I didn’t think anyone would pick us up. I didn’t think anyone would even pass, and highway 20 was another 22 miles away or something hideous like that. I was resigned to having to tell my coworkers that the reason I didn’t come to work was because I was sleeping on the side of the road like a hobo.

We reached Baker Lake Road, and I dropped my bag and sprawled out on the ground looking as pathetic as possible. Within seconds, a pick up truck pulled up, and after chatting, offered us a ride. Oh my god. It was happening. We’d at least make it to Sedro Wooley. We threw our packs in the bed of the truck and hopped in. Into the bed of the truck. I think I did that once, as a kid. Once.

Like they've been doing it their entire lives

Like they’ve been doing it their entire lives

Let’s get something straight. I’m a hoity toity east coast city girl from a hoity toity rich bitch Massachusetts town where there’s a list of acceptable colleges to attend and most kids get brand new cars for their sweet 16 (I was not among those) and houses are judged by their manicured lawns and whether their owners rake in seven or eight figures a year or just a measly six. Hitchhiking was something from the 60’s, something that only bums did nowadays, or people who lived in rural bumfuck nowhere. And there I was, with my Weston-ass self plopped in the back of a pickup truck riding down a highway. And I loved it.

We got dropped off in Sedro Wooley, got sandwiches at Subway, and sat on the curb at a gas station with our gear while we ate. So I was three days of wilderness adventure with no shower, eating a foot long (6 inch sandwiches are for wimps) with a 40oz soda because AMERICA. Waiting for someone to offer us a ride. And eventually, along came another pickup truck with a man and a dog, and again we piled into the bed of the truck. I put on my puffy and my hard shell, John even put on his ski goggles. 60mph in a truck, no problem. We’re all geared up.

hoity toity east coast bitch (yours truly)

Hoity toity east coast bitch finally experiencing life (yours truly)

We finally made it back to to the Lake Ann trailhead, and I have never been so relieved in my life. The guy who picked us up was nice as can be, and lived in Acme, a tiny town between highway 20 and the Mt. Baker highway. We transferred gear to my car, thrilled to be back at the car before sunset, and took off towards Seattle.

And there you have it, folks. I hitchhiked. I put my tense, high maintenance city self aside and did it. And I swore to myself I’d pick up the next hitchhikers I see (subtext: if they look like normal people). Because as it turns out, it’s a fairly common thing to do, and normal people do it. The first two guys who picked us up had hitchhiked plenty before, and had no problem giving us a ride. The second one was the age-old-wisdom type who had picked up so many hitchhikers and had tons of stories.

Okay, hitchhiking aside, Fisher Chimneys was possibly my favorite route I’ve done up anything. I can’t wait to do it again on a clear weekend. It’s just so much freaking fun. Such a variety of challenges, and the route finding and low visibility and having to set up protection and belays a few times made it an unbelievably worthwhile experience. Shuksan’s a tease, but I’m helpless. I spent all of day 2 whining “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME LIKE I LOVE YOU” in my head, because Shuksan just doesn’t want to give it up. That’s okay, I’ll try again. Long term goal? The Price glacier. Get ready, Shuksan. We’re gonna be best buddies.